All is not what it seems
A shadow passed overhead and the gathered marines scrambled for cover. It was dawn, and bitter experience had taught them that this was the time that an attack would usually be mounted, either by the indigenous predators who were led by the instinct to feed, or from the horde of Orks in the fortress nearby.
Sergeant Kervran smelt burnt promethium and hot ceramic’s and gave the signal to stand down. The shadow heralded the arrival of the Venatores
squad who had just returned from a scouting mission to the east of their positions.
He made his way out of the command bunker and into a walled where a hellhound was cleverly camouflaged amongst spiked bushes and thick undergrowth. A marine appeared to be in an animated conversation with a black-coated Commissar. Boudek, the Decurion in charge of the Venatores
squad was a large marine even by Astartes standards, but with the jump pack on his back, he was a veritable colossus.
He noticed Kervran coming and his face opened in a wide grin.
“Bron, I heard rumours that you were in charge of this sector and thought that someone up top had obviously got it wrong. I had to come over and check that the General had not made a mistake.”
Kervran smiled back. He had not seen his battle brother for at least a month and had missed his good humour and optimism. They clasped hands and gave each other’s pauldron a friendly punch. Boudek bore the diving raptor emblem of the Venatores
reconnaissance unit, whilst Kervran displayed the bloody skull of the Ferrus Pugnus
assault unit. Each of them never gave the silent Commissar a second glance.
“Well, what is it?”, Kervran asked quickly and always straight to the point.
Boudek flipped open an Auspex and its small screen lit up brightly.
“We think that they are constructing a Gargant.”
“Think?” Kervran raised an eyebrow. Boudek shrugged his shoulders.
“We cannot get close enough to it. The area around the fortress is swamped with air defence systems. I lost a man yesterday when we ventured too close. The intelligence obtained from the local… unit is next to useless.” He looked at their quiet companion. “No offence meant Commissar Adelhard.”
Kervran picked up a pair of standard magnoculars and looked out across the field of desolation towards the Ork fortress in the distance. As was usual, it was shrouded in thick smoke from the many forges and machines within. He could just make out the domed shape of the Gargant but even his super-enhanced vision could not penetrate the pollution surrounding it.
“The atmospherics’,” the Commissar began, his voice deep and accented. “Make it impossible to target from orbit and our heavy guns would have little effect on its shields. My intelligence however,” he paused for a second. “Suggests that the Orks numbers have been decimated and they are, in fact, preparing to withdraw to the mountains beyond.”
The marines spared each other a quick glance.
“Your information is flawed,” said Boudek. “Their attacks have not decreased; they have increased in intensity over the last few days.”
It was now the Commissars turn to shrug his shoulders and raise an eyebrow.
“Exactly. They are doing what I would do and what generals throughout history have done. They are diversions to give the impression that they are still here in strength.”
Kervran took the magnoculars from his friend and studied the fortress for himself.
“I think you give these greenskins too much credibility Commissar, they are nothing but brute beasts.”
“And I never underestimate an enemy sergeant. Their Warboss is a rare breed who has kept us here on this rock for five months.” He waved his hand towards the distant lines. “They are withdrawing.” He then added almost casually. “A reconnaissance in force would confirm my information.”
“But what about the Gargant? We have insufficient firepower to take on that.” Said Boudek almost forlornly.
“Bring up all the Devastator squads,” Kervran cut in and then he turned to the Commissar. “Prepare the Guard for ground attack. I want everything you have. If we get there and you are wrong, we will need every gun, every missile and anything that could take it down.”
He rolled his eyes and glanced towards the sky. “Oh to have one single Reaver Titan here with us, that would even the odds.”
Kervran led his cohort of assault marines in a phalanx of matt black Rhino’s straight down the middle, all pretence of guile and subtlety gone. The Venetores
skimmed low on the flanks. To their rear, ten thousand Imperial Guard troopers and two hundred armoured vehicles, strained on their leashes, desperate to be in amongst the hated orks who had held them up for so long.
The smoke had mysteriously cleared and the large, rotund shape of the Ork Gargant could be seen, towering above the Fortress parapets. There were nervous glances and whispered curses, but as the Commissar stood at the forefront of the Guard, they kept quiet and reluctantly reassured that all would go well.
Boudek came in low over a small copse of trees and was immediately on top of the front line.
Not a single shot was fired.
The marines moved quickly, scouting ahead, reporting back their findings as and when they were needed.
The messages were clear. The front lines were empty.
+ Caution Brothers. This Warboss, as they say, is cunning and good at his Warcraft. Watch your angles, cover your arcs +
+ Coming up on the fortress now. No return fire +
+ The Gargant is in view +
Kervran felt the familiar excitement and anticipation of battle. The joy of it flowed through him like raw, undiluted battle stimms.
The fortress gates fell open, unlocked and unsecured. The whole place was deserted. The Commissar was right. The Orks were gone.
Kervran moved cautiously, his Boltgun tight into his shoulder. Boudek joined him, his head swivelling from left to right, waiting for the counter-attack to come.
The walls of the fortress were lined with totems swathed in offerings and fetishes. They were topped with human heads. Paint of all colours was daubed in patterns and scribbles. Large banners with child-like depictions of battles hung from ropes and fixtures as if they were displays.
The Gargant was a gigantic model of the Ork God Gork, fashioned from wood and scrap metal and festooned with strips of coloured bunting, beads and jewels. A grinning, fanged maw stared down at them.
It was all for them. It was a gallery.